A recent study indicated that couples in Germany choose to have a second child based on their ability to outsource housework. Laurie DeRose, blogging for the Institute of Family Studies, takes these results one step further. She asserts that parents who are able to outsource at least a portion of childcare duties are more likely to have multiple children.
Her assertion is a fair one. Not that long ago I met a woman who had a 19-month-old, an 8-month-old, and just recently became pregnant with her third child. When I asked her if she stayed home with her children she replied, “Oh no, I work. I mean, I might stay home after this one, but we’ll see. I love my job and I don’t want to lose it.”
As a stay-at-home mother of one I felt a pang of guilt followed by a glowing realization. I may have felt guilty for being too exhausted and overwhelmed to yet consider bringing a second child into our family, but that is because I’m with my son all day, every day. I’m the one in charge from the minute he wakes until he goes to bed. Thankfully I have a husband who manages to fall back asleep quicker than I do, otherwise I’d be the one on night duty as well. If I get an extra couple of hours to myself on busy weekends, it’s a miracle. Talking to this woman made me realize that if I could escape back into my private office all day, I’d probably be ready and raring to go for numbers 2, 3 and 4. The stresses of pregnancy and giving birth are nothing compared to the endless challenge of 24/7 parenting.
My suspicion was confirmed a few weeks later when I encountered two moms at a library playgroup. Both educators, they were off for the summer and overwhelmed with their toddlers. They grew wide-eyed when I said I stayed at home with my son every day and they spoke about their babysitters as if they were angels from heaven. As much as they loved their children, it is their escape into work that keeps them sane.
I doubt they are alone. Every stay-at-home mom wants to escape at some point, even if it’s just for a bathroom break by herself with the door shut. We never, ever get to be alone. When our children are taken care of and finally in bed, we have husbands to spend time with, family and friends to check in on, chores to finish…the list goes on and on. Yes, women who work still have duties to tend to. The difference is, the structure of their day permits alone time, even if it’s running to the grocery store at lunch to pick up dinner.
The help parents really need doesn’t come in the form of a government check. It comes in the form of time. Too often this translates into paying for services: daycare or maid service ranking at the top of the list. While these services are helpful, they lack the intimate, personal connection that comes in the form of a spouse, family member, or friend offering to help a mother cross at least one task off her list, or simply have some time to herself. We need to foster a culture that embraces communal reliance as much as individual resilience if we want families to grow and thrive.